Intuition Influences Adolescents’ Eating Behaviors

The Intuitive Eating Scale (IES) was created as a way to measure what cues influence healthy eating behaviors. IES was originally designed to address eating behaviors in college women and therefore is sensitive to the emotional and physical reactions of young adult females. Although the idea of exploring what factors contribute to adaptive eating is novel and necessary, this has not been examined in adolescents, a segment of the population that is especially vulnerable for eating and food problems. To extend this existing vein of research, Sally A. Dockendorff of the Department of Psychology at the University of North Texas recently conducted a study using the IES to assess eating behaviors and eating cues in a sample of more than 500 adolescents.

Dockendorff enlisted male and female middle school students and sought to see how the existing factors of the IES designed for young adults would apply when used to assess adolescents. She found that several of the factors were effective at assessing cues that predicted healthy and adaptive eating. Specifically, Dockendorff found that the “unconditional permission to eat” factor revealed that average weight teens with adaptive eating had fewer negative messages about their body and weight than the teens with negative eating behaviors. This lack of pressure to diet may allow the teens to feel free to eat what they want and, in general, have a higher level of body satisfaction than teens that are receiving negative messages.

The study also found that the female participants reported eating for emotional reasons more often than the boys did. This supports the second factor, “eating for physical reasons,” as a valid way to measure adaptive eating. Two other factors that were revealed as relevant to adolescents were “awareness” and “trust.” The participants of average weight had higher trust and awareness scores, suggesting that they were more attentive to the physical signals of satiation and trusted those cues. “In addition, those adolescents who qualified for free or reduced cost lunch had less trust in their internal cues than those who did not,” added Dockendorff. This finding underscores the importance of addressing trust issues in adolescents and helping them reduce feelings of shame and worthlessness about their lives, economic condition, and bodies that could ultimately lead to negative eating patterns.

Dockendorff, S. A., Petrie, T. A., Greenleaf, C. A., Martin, S. (2012). Intuitive eating scale: An examination among early adolescents. Journal of Counseling Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0029962

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  • hollis


    September 13th, 2012 at 3:56 PM

    I have noticed that the more pressure that we place on kids about what they eat then the more problems with their weight that they seem to have.
    Why have we become this nation so fixated about weight? It seems like when we all worried about it a whole lot less there was a whole lot less of us size wise for us to worry about!
    I think that when kids feel pressure to be thin and not eat what they want that is when you begin to see them develop problems with obesity and other food related illnesses and disorders.
    At my house we never really talk about weight, it’s just that I have always cooked and stocked the house with healthy foods so those are the choices that they have available to them.
    This, above counting calories all the time, helps them create healthy eating habits that will last throughout their lives instead of just being a fad diet for them.

  • Hector


    September 13th, 2012 at 10:56 PM

    You know,instead of putting all those unhealthy foods on the shelves and then tempting teens and adolescents with photoshop-ed images on billboards and magazines,we could do a lot better by having stricter regulations against unhealthy foods and such blatant ‘cheating’ that is prevalent in the show biz.

    Rather than setting up unfavorable conditions and expecting favorable results,shouldn’t we be looking at having favorable conditions instead??

  • Jaymi


    September 14th, 2012 at 4:02 AM

    I can truly relate to that eating for emotional reasons, and I think it is true that we start those habits very young. It looks like it is more critical than ever to teach young girls about the role that healthy eating plays in having an even healthier lifestyle, as well as providing them with other mechanisms for coping with the stress that they could be feeling that is such a natural part of being a tween and adolescent. Perhaps if they find out from a young age better ways to deal with their emotions instead of trying to heal them with food then the rates of obesity among young females can start to decline.

  • julia


    September 14th, 2012 at 12:03 PM

    being in college,I see that the popular sentiment is not untrue at all – young people, and especially young women, go to great and sometimes crazy lengths to work towards their ideal body.and this has a big role to play on what they eat.instead of always blaming this mentality for eating problems,I think we should make use of this – by encouraging healthy eating and showing them how such healthy eating can take them closer to their goal and their ideal body!

  • Britt


    September 14th, 2012 at 3:30 PM

    I want to have that perfect body, and unfortunately my mom really set me up for some crazy ideas about getting there.
    She has had me on a diet since I was probably three!
    No wonder I have lost all vision about what the perfect girl should be, because she instilled in me that the only way to be beautiful is to be thin.
    I have started to question some of that, but it is terribly hard to break those habits.

  • Margaret


    September 15th, 2012 at 3:34 AM

    Oh Britt- that sounds terrible! I don’t think that your mom probably thought that she was doing you harm but it is very apparent that she hurt you in ways that could be difficult for you to get over. As a mom, you want only the good things for your kids, and iz admit that there have been times when I have wanted to ask my girsl are they sure they want to eat that, or do they even need that. But I really try to refrain, because I think the more that you say, the greater the likelihood is that I will instill the same kind of damage to them that you so obviously feel. I wish you healing from that pain, and please know tha you and every other woman is so much more than simply that outer shell we see in the mirror. There is a beautiful woman underneath and I hope that one day you will be able to find that.

  • Juliette


    September 17th, 2012 at 4:14 AM

    I think that very few of us realize just how hurtful wour words can be to these young girls. Britt is a perfect example, but there are toms of others just like her who have been hurt by comments that probably were not meant to harm but they did.
    The only think that needs to be done is to simply know what you are giving your children and always have healthy alternatives on hand for them to choose form. If this is what they know then this is the choice they will make.

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